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UNT researchers help unravel DNA sequence for strawberries


Vladimir Shulaev and Ron Mittler, strawberry research

Vladimir Shulaev, left, and Ron Mittler, right, professors of biological sciences and researchers in the plant signaling cluster, are among an international team of scientists that are the first to publish the DNA sequence for strawberries, a development expected to yield tastier, hardier varieties of the berry and other crops in its family.

Shulaev and Mittler collaborated with a team of 75 researchers from 38 institutions around the globe to obtain the genome sequence. The sequence was published in the January issue of Nature Genetics, a science journal that specializes in genetics research.  

Shulaev, who led the project while a faculty member of the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute at Virginia Tech before joining UNT last fall, says having the genome sequence means strawberry breeders can improve upon even complex traits such as aroma and flavor.

Breeders also will be able to improve stress tolerance toward drought, heat and salt, and increase yield and shelf life, so that the strawberries last longer in the fields and in the supermarket, says Shulaev. The discovery also will help to create fruits containing higher levels of phytochemicals with health benefits, leading to better nutritional value in strawberries.

The consortium sequenced the woodland strawberry, a wild relative of today’s cultivated strawberry varieties. From a genetic standpoint, the woodland strawberry, formally known as Fragaria vesca, is similar to the cultivated strawberry but less complex, making it easier for scientists to use in research.

The strawberry is part of the Rosaceae family of flowering plants that includes important agricultural and ornamental crops, such as apples, peaches, cherries, raspberries, plums, almonds and roses. Plants in the Rosaceae family share many important traits, so unveiling the woodland strawberry’s genome should mean quicker breeding advances those crops, as well.

Ted Campbell, executive director of the Florida Strawberry Growers Association, called the genome-sequencing a “very significant milestone” for growers around the world, including those in Florida where strawberries are a $338 million-a-year commodity.

The woodland strawberry is the first plant to have its genome sequenced exclusively by a method called short-read sequencing, in which small pieces of DNA are sequenced separately and then strung together using computer software.

The consortium offered open access to any researcher who had an interest in the project, even those who were not experts in genome sequencing or computational biology. The scientists also funded the genome-sequencing project, donating time and used parts of smaller grants to cover costs.

Shulaev says that future study of the strawberry genome will include origin, domestication, disease resistance and stress tolerance physiology and biochemistry. Shulaev and Mittler will conduct future research at UNT’s new, state-of-the-art laboratories housed in the new Life Sciences Complex, which officially opened in October.



Posted on: Tue 11 January 2011

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